The 5 Best Buddy Cop Movies

Photo Credit: New Line Cinema
February 6th, 2014

What makes the perfect buddy cop movie? First, it needs two police officers with an unstable relationship. Half the fun of the buddy cop movie is watching partners get into shenanigans and slowly learn to work with each other. Second, it needs an outrageous situation. It isn't enough to solve a basic crime. The cops in a buddy cop movie are ideally pitted against the crime of the century. Third, the best buddy cop movies need great dialogue, plenty of tension and enough funny moments to keep you laughing long after the movies end.


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5. Rush Hour

The first entry into this list is 1998's "Rush Hour," starring Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan. This classic buddy cop movie combines Jackie Chan's martial-arts skills with Chris Tucker's trademark wit. Chan plays detective inspector Lee of the Hong Kong Police Force, forced to work with the Los Angeles Police Department after his daughter is kidnapped. Lee gets paired with wild-card detective James Carter (Tucker), and the two of them kick, punch and quip their way to the film's thrilling conclusion. One of the most hilarious action sequences involves inspector Lee climbing from a double-decker bus on to a traffic sign, then jumping onto a truck and leaping into a moving RV. It's not surprising that "Rush Hour" spawned two sequels, as these characters are so much fun to watch, and the martial arts stunt sequences are superb.


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4. The Heat

The 2013 film "The Heat" pits uptight FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) against laid-back, sloppy Boston detective Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) as they begrudgingly agree to work together to bust a major drug kingpin. This type of "Odd Couple" buddy cop pairing is standard to the genre, but "The Heat" stands out due to its sharp comedy as well as its two female leads. Buddy cop movies don't have to be just for the guys, after all. Everyone enjoys cop films, and "The Heat" features two great actresses. "The Heat" also proves that female cops are just as fierce, funny and raunchy as their male counterparts, and this film definitely earns its R rating.


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3. Turner & Hooch

Who says both buddies have to be human? This 1989 film takes fresh young Hollywood star Tom Hanks and pairs him with fresh young canine star Beasley the Dog. Together, Turner (Hanks) and Hooch (the dog) work to uncover the criminal who murdered Hooch's former owner. This film combines plenty of dog-related antics and slapstick comedy with some serious emotional depth, as Turner slowly learns to love this big, sloppy animal that has worked its way into his life. Without giving away any spoilers, pack some tissues for the final scene.


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2. In the Heat of the Night

"They call me Mister Tibbs!" One of the most famous movie quotes of all time comes from this 1967 film, but "In the Heat of the Night" provides much more than great dialogue. This film is one of the first buddy cop movies to fully address racial tensions and cross-cultural issues, as Caucasian, southern police chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger) finds himself forced to work with African-American homicide detective Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier). Both men must confront their own prejudices and biases as they learn to trust each other and solve a high-profile murder. This film, which debuted near the height of America's civil rights conflict, provides social commentary on racial issues of the 1960s as well as offers insight on how different groups of people can learn to work together.


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1. Lethal Weapon

Another buddy cop movie to generate multiple sequels, 1987's "Lethal Weapon" is considered a standout in the genre. This film brings together Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh, both Los Angeles Police Department sergeants who have to get to the bottom of a series of suicides and murders that lead back to the Vietnam War. Mel Gibson plays the unruly cop while Danny Glover takes on the straight-laced role, but this classic buddy cop trope is barely noticed in the high-stakes plot, which includes some of the most tension-filled chases, explosions and confrontations ever filmed.

The buddy cop genre is a classic Hollywood plot, and shows up in numerous variations, from "Beverly Hills Cop" to "Men in Black." People love to see two adversaries learn how to get along, especially in the middle of explosions, car chases and shootouts. These five films are essential selections in any buddy cop movie list, and belong in every well-stocked movie collection.